05/23/2013 02:52 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2013

Job Search Power Games

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Power. It's a part of every job search. Every hire. It can be systemic. It can feel personal. Like a "power game."

  • What does power look like to an applicant? That's an easy question.
  • What does it look like if you're hiring? That might be a bit tougher.
  • Can power be shared? Is that even possible? Toughest questions of all.

It's much less complicated to crusade for perfect resumes, punctuation, networking or practice an "elevator speech."

Power seen through the applicant's eyes might look like this:

  1. Lots of forms. Complete with written instructions on filling in the same information again and again. Feeling any sense of power begin to slip away, the applicant thinks, "How many times will this company make me write my name and address?"
  2. An endless job search line. Snaking off into the darkness of an American night where the jobs used to be. Hard to find power when you are standing in line.
  3. "No phone calls please." Every applicant knows that phrase. When you're not allowed to speak, feeling any sense of power can be tough.
  4. Blaming the Victim. Woven into career development initiatives, one can often find tiny thorns of blame. The unspoken or even spoken message that "The reason you don't have a job is... well it's all your fault." End of story.
  5. Being the Job Description. The applicant learns quick that matching the job description is the goal. "Dumbing down" resumes to appear less experienced is very common these days. And when there is no mention of an applicant doing what they do best; power fades fast. Right along with drive and hope.

What Does Power Look Like If You're Hiring?

Best practice recruiters also see a loss of power in the same broken system. They just see it from a different angle.

  1. Transactions up. Transformations down. The nuts and bolts of any operation is in its transactions. The work it performs every day. How many hires, widgets, rejected resumes or phone screens done. So sometimes the transformations -- those unique events that propel an organization forward -- get lost. There is no bigger transformation than bringing on the right person. But if all an organization cares about is transactions, the momentum fueled by power tends to fade.
  2. Talking about talent. Good recruiters seek talent. The innate, natural ability of a person to excel at what they do. But there is a glaring lack of language in describing talent. Without that language, power fades. The missing master's degree becomes the issue. Not the fact that the person has the talent for the job.
  3. A constant time crunch. Talent selection at its best requires a conversation. Conversations can build powerful alliances. But when there is not enough time, conversations turn into checklists.
  4. The experience trap. The best recruiters know that past performance is no predictor of future success. But in a work-search system designed above all to eliminate immediate risk and avoid blame, hiring a person who did the supposedly exact same job down the street gives the recruiter an easy excuse when the applicant quits in two weeks. And healthy power never comes from excuses or compensating for broken systems.
  5. It's all about the fit! "Fit" is the real goal of good recruiting. But here's the problem. Fit is not a transaction. It can't be mass produced. It's different every time. Fit means what it says. This person is a perfect fit for this role. Fit comes from judgment. From the best recruiters doing what they do best. If a system doesn't put fit first -- then power will take a back seat.

Can Power Be Shared?

Yes it can be. In transforming the same broken system, power can be shared to the benefit of all. How? There is no one magic bullet point answer. The vision of sharing power can't be a transaction. The thinking must be about transforming. The path to the sharing must come not from recipes, but from stories. Each one unique. Connected by 5 common principles:

  1. Telling Your Story: Showing talent in action.
  2. Adding Music: Differentiating oneself to find a fit.
  3. Communitizing: Building community. Working from the inside.
  4. Solving a Mystery: Filling a need.
  5. Practicing Stewardship: Engaging with a higher purpose.

Listen to Lori's story. Note how each of "The Five" Principles came into play as Lori kept her job while others around her did not.

Lori's Story

When Charna took over managing the organization, a large nonprofit, everybody hated her. Perhaps no one more than Lori.

The scope of the organization was changing. The population they served had changed. The needs had changed. A lot. Not only would every single person's job change, but people were being let go. People like Lori. And it was Charna who was making all this happen. So Charna took the heat.

But as people began to be let go, Lori decided to do something different than all of her co-workers. Lori went to Charna and said, "Look, I still don't like you. But I'm willing to stay and take care of these five functions. All of them are essential. You can absolutely count on me for these five things. I will do them in a way that helps bring harmony to this place. Something we don't have right now. I'm not going to like you, but I will do these things better than anyone. And I can help make sure we all work together. We don't have to like each other. But we do have to sing the same song. We have a mission here.

Charna said, "Yes." The hate part went away. Today the two are also great friends.

Lori found work, she kept her job, by sharing power. She also used the Five. The circumstances were unique. But they will always be unique. One size never fits all in connecting talent with work.

What remains is the fact that Lori was thinking differently about sharing power. It worked for her.

You might be hiring. You might be part of a larger system that hires. Or you might be looking for work.

Is there a way that the sharing of power could work for you? Is that even possible?